Adolescent psychology, Adolescent psychotherapy, Confidential communications


While the importance of confidentiality in eliciting sensitive information in psychotherapy is generally assumed, there has been little experimental testing of this hypothesis. Therapists are understandably reluctant to manipulate conditions of confidentiality in a therapy situation, since such manipulation may adversely affect the progress of the client. In view of this circumstance, analogue experiments are an alternative in producing empirical data. The current study in an analogue. Forty-five male and forty-five female subjects were orally administered the same structured interview by a female experimenter. Interview questions were derived from existing standard personality and clinical assessment instruments, and school regulations and situations encompassed in school discipline codes. Questions were rated by mental health professionals who work with children and adolescents and by junior high school teachers as to their presumed sensitivity for a junior high school population. Seventh and eighth grade male and female subjects were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions: confidentiality explicitly assured; confidentiality neutral; and confidentiality. Seventeen items were judged most sensitive by the panel of rates. A frequency of sensitive self-disclosure, computed for these questions revealed a nonsignificant trend consistent with the experimental hypotheses that self-disclosure would be highest in the confidential conditions, and lowest in the nonconfidential condition. Thus subjects in the confidentiality assure condition had the highest mean disclosure rates, while subjects in the nonconfidential condition had the lowest mean disclosure rates. Additionally, defensiveness of subjects was moderated by confidentiality condition. Males and females showed differences in patterns of behavior under the three confidentiality conditions. Females disclosed less frequently across conditions, with greatest differences shown in the nonconfidential condition. Also females' patterns of defensiveness differed from those of male subjects. Post-test responses to a questionnaire indicated that a majority of subjects tended to assume a condition of confidentiality, unless they were explicitly informed otherwise, and that females valued confidentiality more highly than males. The results provide support for the hypothesis that confidentiality is perceived as an important condition in a situation in which an individual is asked to disclose sensitive and personal information, and that behavior is influenced by confidentiality condition, although male and female adolescents may be affected differently.


If this is your thesis or dissertation, and want to learn how to access it or for more information about readership statistics, contact us at

Graduation Date

Spring 1981


McGuire, John M.


Master of Science (M.S.)


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Program

Clinical Psychology




90 p.




Public Domain

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)



Contributor (Linked data)

John M. McGuire (Q59421427)

Accessibility Status

Searchable text